Ready or not, here they come. The holidays are officially upon us. Many of us will travel to see family and friends. Some will play host and open their homes for lodging and big meals. Whether reuniting with rarely seen relatives brings excitement or a little anxiety, you typically know what to expect and reconnect quickly.
For children, it can be a little different. If you only see Aunt Gladys or Grandpa Buck a few times a year, it may take a little more time to warm up. While squeezing precious kids and plopping hundreds of kisses on their sweet cheeks is the first thing you want to do, it may be overwhelming for them and even a little scary. Try to have patience with kids and do not be easily offended.
You see, children are hopefully learning big life lessons about their personal rights to their bodies and that it is acceptable to politely refuse physical affection if they feel uncomfortable. By forcing children to hug and kiss others through guilt, coercion or scolding, many of those lessons about body safety can become confusing and muddled in kids’ minds. “Does no not mean no all the time? Does no not work if it is a relative? I thought I could say no if I was uncomfortable?”
Now, we do understand this is easier said than done. A thick layer of guilt and definite discomfort falls right on parents when their charming child refuses a hug from a beloved relative. Of course, you know Aunt Gladys and Grandpa Buck are loving and wonderful. But this is an important moment for your child – stand behind him/her. Teaching children that it is okay to have boundaries and make choices about their own bodies are lessons you will never regret. These learning moments will shape how your child responds to certain peer pressures as young adults and beyond.
A few ways to bounce back and ease possible tensions after your child declines squeezes and smooches are:
- Be sure to teach how to politely say no. Then move on. Don’t let your well-intentioned relative or friend dwell on the moment or add guilt.
- Ask your child if a high-five, handshake or fist bump would be okay. Seeing Aunt Gladys learn how to fist bump or make up a silly handshake may dissolve everyone into giggles.
- Find small group or one-on-one activities to help your child warm up to relatives such as reading favorite books together, playing games or cards, building Legos or puzzles.
- Talk to your child in private. Tell them your favorite stories about Aunt Gladys and Grandpa Buck to show your positive relationship.
- Tell your relatives in advance that you are teaching basic body rights and safety. Hugs and kisses may be refused. Don’t take children’s actions too personally.
Chances are, kids will run to close friends and relatives and embrace them with a warm hug upon arrival. But if not, don’t assume it is a reflection of the child’s lack of love. Holidays are overwhelming, even for adults – just ask the Griswolds.